Archaeologists are hoping to give American World War Two paratroopers a glimpse of some of the personal belongings their regiment left behind when veterans return to the site of their camp at Wollaton Park in Nottingham on Tuesday June 9 2009.
It is said that members of 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment (PIR) buried their most treasured and personal possessions in empty ammunition boxes in the ground under their tents before leaving to go to war in order to keep them safe until their return — but many belongings were never reclaimed. The regiment suffered terrible losses during the D-Day landings and Operation Market Garden and after the German surrender the regiment remained on occupation duty until being repatriated from Germany in 1946.
Archaeologists and students from Trent and Peak Archaeology at The University of Nottingham together with volunteers from the local area have begun excavations to find out if the stories of buried artefacts are true.
With funding from emda, the Greater Nottingham Partnership and The University of Nottingham, the park has been carefully mapped and sections picked out for further investigation. As no metal detecting is allowed at Wollaton it is hoped any wartime artefacts have been left untouched since 1944.
Lee Elliott, Head of Project Development at Trent and Peak Archaeology said: “The significance of this project is in its timing with the 65th anniversary of D-Day. It is in the recording of living memories before they pass into history and the bringing together of the veterans and the local community both from 1944 and the present.”
Hundreds of American paratroopers, who became known as the ‘Red Devils’, were billeted in the shadow of Wollaton Hall in March 1944. Of the 2,056 members of 508 (PIR) who participated in the D-Day landings, only 995 returned. The regiment suffered 1,061 casualties, of which 307 were killed in action.
The 508 Parachute Infantry was cited for outstanding performance of duty in action against the enemy in June 1944. They returned to Nottingham to prepare for Operation Market Garden in which they were to play a key role. Their contribution was made famous in the film A Bridge Too Far.
When they arrived at Wollaton Park in March 1944 most of the young paratroopers had never been outside the USA. They were young, brave and good looking and left a lasting impression on the people of Nottingham. Armed with luxury goods and food such as citrus fruit from across the Atlantic they soon endeared themselves to the local population and a strong bond between regiment and city remains to this day.
Some of the few surviving 508 veterans and veterans of the 82nd American Airborne Division support units together with friends and relatives return to Wollaton Park on Tuesday June 9 2009 after taking part in the 65th anniversary celebrations of the D-Day landings in Normandy. Their visit has been co-coordinated by veteran’s representative Bill Maher.
Mr Maher said: “Some of the 508th social haunts were the American Red Cross on Derby Road and the Victoria Baths which became a dance hall. There was also the Church Hall opposite the gate to Wollaton Park on the Derby Road where some of the local girls learnt to jitterbug. Other local haunts were the Admiral Rodney pub in Wollaton and pubs in Beeston. As a 12-year-old school boy, John Savage used to do the fish and chips delivery for them when they were confined to barracks. John will be there to meet them again on Tuesday. Some of 508th took GI brides back to the States and a few settled in Nottingham. A lot of local friendships developed and have been retained over the years. There have been regular returns to commemorate D-Day and old friendships rekindled. On one such visit in 1978, a group of 508th laid a plaque in Wollaton Park to commemorate fallen comrades. It is still there and the local Legion and friends lay the occasional wreath. This year's visit may be the last for many of the original 508th who took off for Normandy but it is hoped others will return to perpetuate the regiment’s special relationship with Nottingham.”
As well as finding out what the archaeologists have been able to ‘dig up’ from their past the visitors will have a tour of Wollaton Hall — which on their arrival as young paratroopers in 1944 some mistook for Nottingham Castle. They will also see a special exhibition ‘From Nottingham to Normandy’ featuring a wealth of stories and photographs of the time which has been set up to mark their visit. Their visit has been arranged with the co-operation and support of Nottingham City Council and the staff at Wollaton Hall.
Archaeologists hope to carry out a second phase of the project later in the summer. It is hoped to collect oral histories from residents and veterans and produce an education resource for Nottingham schools studying the Second World War as part of the National Curriculum.
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Photo call: (timings may be subject to change).
Location: Wollaton Hall, Wollaton Road, Nottingham, NG8 2AE
Schedule: 10.30am – 11am Arrival of veterans, friends and relatives for reception at Wollaton Hall
11am – 11.45am Tour of Wollaton Hall
11.45am – 12.15pm Tour of 508 Parachute Infantry Regiment ‘Nottingham to Normandy’ exhibition
12.15pm – 12.45pm Tour of excavations
12.45pm Veterans depart
Lunch With members of the Wollaton and Beeston Royal British Legion
4.30pm Civic reception at the Nottingham Council House attended by the veterans, the Lord Mayor, the Sheriff of Nottingham.